The SRK phenomenon

At 57, ‘Jawan’ Shah Rukh Khan romances with ‘action’ in a rebranding bid. Souvik Ghosh reports
In a continuation of his stormy comeback in films in early 2023 with ‘Pathaan’, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan is poised to shatter many box office records in the coming days with his second release of the year, Atlee-directorial ‘Jawan’, which is running in the theatres from September 7.
Among all reviews that are still pouring in, one aspect is constant, i.e. Shah Rukh in a never-seen-before avatar.
“‘Jawan’ runs for 170 minutes! And the incessant sound and fury become exhausting. But Shah Rukh, specially the older version, keeps the film from becoming a slog,” says film critic Anupama Chopra. 
The actor, who started as an anti-hero and treaded reasonably well, marched into the romantic hero mould and recreated himself as an action hero after working for over 30 years.
Anand L Rai’s 2018 film ‘Zero’ had almost served as a culmination of downslide trajectory of Shah Rukh’s big-budget films, which have had a volatile run since ‘Chennai Express’ that happened in 2013.
The failure of ‘Zero’ preceded by mixed reviews of Imtiaz Ali’s ‘Jab Harry Met Sejal’, ‘Fan’ prompted one of the most loved actors of the country to go back in the hut for introspection.
At 50 odd years, Shah Rukh was in search of a clue to revive his onscreen magic which glued the audience to theatres over a period of more than two decades.
In introspection, one of the richest actors in the world waited for the right script to bounce back but the hiatus was no less than four years.

“The process of filmmaking is most important to me. 90 percent of my work entails that I enjoy the process of being an actor and four years ago, I stopped enjoying it, so I didn’t work for a year,” Shah Rukh said in June 2022. 

Shah Rukh, who charmed the audience with his conservative onscreen romance with actresses of different eras, ranging from Madhuri Dixit to millennial Anushka Sharma, is a surprise for his millions of female fans, who melt at the sight of his remotest appearance, in ‘Pathaan’ and ‘Jawan’.
Relentless action, fighting sequences at 57 with occasional romance either with sizzling Deepika Padukone (in ‘Pathaan’) or gorgeous Nayanthara (in ‘Jawan’) is safe to say a reincarnation of the actor devoid of conventional “manliness”.

Post ‘Pathaan’ release in January 2023, Shah Rukh had said, “I came to the film industry 32 years ago to be an action hero but I missed the boat because they made me a romantic hero instead.

“I’ve only wanted to be an action hero. I mean I love DDLJ and I love Rahul and Raj and all these good sweet boys but I always thought I was an action hero, so for me it is my dream come true.”

But the refurbishment has not been new to “King Khan”, as he is famously called, who started as a television actor and broke the notion that familiar faces can’t make it to big screens.
After slowly becoming a recognisable face in living rooms with daily soaps ‘Fauji’, ‘Circus’ et al, Shah Rukh was offered his first film by veteran actress Hema Malini, who was directing ‘Dil Aashna Hai’.
However, the film’s delay in release made his second project ‘Deewana’- co-starring late actors Rishi Kapoor and Divya Bharti- his Bollywood debut in 1992.

“I do remember the first day I shot. I was shooting with Hema-ji (Hema Malini) for Dil Ashna Hai. It was about 5-6 pm on this date 30 years ago in a bungalow somewhere near Lokhandwala. I remember Hema-ji showing me how to do the shot…,” Shah Rukh says in an Instagram chat remembering his initial days.

Shah Rukh gained the reputation of portraying “anti-hero” roles in 1993 with two consecutive films ‘Baazigar’ and ‘Darr’.
Co-starring Shilpa Shetty and Kajol, Shah Rukh played a murderer who seeks revenge in Abbas-Mustan’s ‘Baazigar’ and went on to essay an obsessive and often-scary lover in Yash Chopra’s ‘Darr’.
In recognition for his success as an anti-hero, Shah Rukh won the Best Actor Award in Filmfares for ‘Baazigar’.
Contrary to what a newcomer would do in the formative years of one’s career, Shah Rukh went on to play an obsessive lover again in ‘Anjaam’, co-starring Madhuri Dixit.
Not giving a chance to getting stereotyped in an industry of ever brewing aspirations, the actor turned into a romantic hero with Aditya Chopra’s directorial debut ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’, which later went on to become an iconic film in the Indian cinema.
Not just his pairing with Kajol triggered an everlasting chemistry in Bollywood, Shah Rukh’s subsequent films helped him cement his place as a romantic hero who makes the audience believe in love stories often far away from pragmatism.
‘Yes Boss’, ‘Pardes’, ‘Dil To Pagal Hai’, ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ earned Shah Rukh his synonym, “King of Romance”.
In the early years of the 21st century, Shah Rukh experimented with some films like ‘Devdas’, ‘Paheli’, ‘Veer Zaara’, ‘Chak De! India’ or later super-hero film ‘Ra.One’ with some hits and misses but never broke up with his core genre, ‘romance’.
Years after romancing with icons like Madhuri Dixit, Kajol, Rani Mukerji, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (then Aishwarya Rai), Sushmita Sen, Shah Rukh launched now superstar Deepika Padukone in 2007 with ‘Om Shanti Om’ and Anushka Sharma in 2008 with ‘Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi’.
Though he ventured into action films like ‘Don’, ‘Don 2’ or later ‘Raees’ sporadically, Shah Rukh maintained his romantic hero aura featuring in ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’, rom-com ‘Chennai Express’, ‘Jab Harry Met Sejal’.
Shah Rukh, 53 at that time, starring in a romantic film alongside Bollywood beauties, Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma, was politely asked by the audience to opt for a course correction pushing him back to the drawing board.

Anupama Chopra in her review for ‘Zero’ had written, “It’s so bizarre and implausible and incoherent that I kept wondering if pages in the script went missing or too many scenes were slashed or if I’m just missing the point.

In a complete overhaul in his promotional campaign for films, Shah Rukh, who is also a film producer and a businessman, substituted city tours with social media campaigns and online q/a sessions with fans coupled with his spontaneous wits and humour to introduce ‘Pathaan’ to the audience.
The strategy was mildly revised for ‘Jawan’, for which the superstar went to Chennai, Dubai but largely waited for his film to speak on his behalf.
Images by Avishek Mitra/IBNS
File Image: Shah Rukh Khan Facebook


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